Phyllis Kimber Wilcox |
The LA City Council continues to live with the after effects of a secretly recorded private conversation between several (now former) city council and labor leaders in which disparaging comments were made about almost every constituency in Los Angeles. The conversation centered around redistricting and political horse trading.
In the immediate aftermath of the tape becoming public, the President of the L.A. City Council Nury Martinez resigned from her seat, as did the President of the United Federation of Labor, Ron Herrera. Protests and requests for the resignations of those involved and censure followed. All of this occurred during the run up to an already contentious election.
After the Election
In June, before the tape surfaced, L.A. City Councilmember Gil Cedillo (one of those on the secret recording) had already lost his bid for re-election so he refused to resign, while the other, Kevin de Leon, refused to vacate his seat.
Councilmember de Leon’s refusal to resign despite requests from both officials and the public have led to sustained protests in front of the councilmember’s home and city hall, interrupting council business. A scuffle between protesters and de Leon prompted newly elected LA City Council President Krekorian to hint at taking further action against protesters.
Dr. James Thomas, a professor at Cal State University Los Angeles and President of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of NAACP recently spoke with Black Voice News about Councilmember Kevin de Leon and the L.A. City Council.
Thomas, who has been present at several protests, has decided to petition for a special election for Council District Six, Nury Martinez’s seat, and to run for City Council. Thomas said he does not expect the protests to end any time soon.
BVN: What damage do you think this controversy has done to the relationship between Black and Brown communities in Los Angeles?
JT: What I saw Kevin de Leon doing was stirring up a Black versus Brown atmosphere that doesn’t really exist. Folks like myself and others have been working hard in solidarity with the Black and Brown communities. I belong to a Black and Brown Clergy group. I went down to the border around Christmas Eve 2020. We talked to folks and ministered to people at the encampments, which was unbelievable to me because we were told by Donald Trump these were drug dealers. These were women, some of whom were pregnant women, and children. These were not dangerous people at all. Yet, they were being contained by guards who I thought were the military.
We have been working with Brown and Indigenous people for quite some time. If Black and Brown folks are going to have issues, it should not be because of something a politician does or says because the truth is, neither have fared well under Kevin de Leon’s leadership.
BVN: Did the altercation between Council Member de Leon and an activist prompt you to run for office?
JT: I decided to get into the race because there needs to be an adult in the room and it seems like there aren’t any. I think Nury Martinez did the right thing when she resigned. I think someone who is running should focus on healing, bringing the community together and focusing on the needs of the constituency. This is the problem with elected officials, they get into office and they forget the people who put them there. I believe you can be an outstanding public official by doing the things the community wants you to do.
BVN: What concerns you most about the interactions between protesters and the Council in general, and de Leon in particular?
J.T. The problem with his [de Leon’s] public relations campaign is those are not the folks he hurt directly. But, he’s not talking to Black folks who are having to travel to his district to have a conversation with him.
This seems to be common in Los Angeles. Elected officials can just decide they’re not going to have conversations with folks because they don’t want difficult conversations. People want to be heard and that is not happening. By all indicators folks are hurting in Los Angeles. We have a houselessness issue that is out of control. People are literally dying on the street, freezing to death every day.
BVN: What should the council do about de Leon?
JT: A discrimination investigation should take place. I do not think it should be handled locally. I think it should be federal because the people need to know that their resources are not given based upon race. No one has talked about the money and that’s why there needs to be an investigation. When they spoke about Marqueece Harris-Dawson and giving his district the airport, that was about money. These ideas are linked to dollars. (During the taped conversation participants could be heard discussing the idea of drawing boundaries so the airport would fall within City Councilmember Harris-Dawson’s district).
BVN: What are your thoughts about how the redistricting process was managed in Los Angeles?
JT: Never again should a local official be responsible for drawing up their own districts.
BVN: How long do you think the protests at City Hall will continue?
JT: There’s nothing that people are demanding that is unreasonable. It is not unreasonable to want Kevin de Leon off the city council for the things that he said.